Canada must improve prescription drug safety for seniors

January 12th, 2017
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Montreal – Canada needs a national strategy to address inappropriate prescribing practices that lead to the unsafe use of medications by seniors, says the author of a new study from the Institute for Research on Public Policy.

Seniors are the heaviest users of prescription medicines in Canada. On average, two-thirds take 5 or more prescriptions drugs over the course of a year and one-quarter take 10 or more, says Nicole Bernier. “It is estimated that as much as half of the medications given to seniors are taken incorrectly or are overprescribed, increasing the likelihood of adverse drug reactions and interactions.”

Bernier observes that governments have relied heavily on the voluntary efforts of professional groups and patients to address the issue, when they could use legislation and financial instruments to much greater effect.

She calls for a comprehensive strategy and a more proactive role for Health Canada. Building on the 2015 recommendations of the Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, such a strategy would entail revising the drug approval process, monitoring newly marketed drugs prescribed to seniors, improving reporting on adverse drug reactions, and encouraging independent research into off-label prescription drug use.

Additionally, provinces and territories would be required to update their prescribing guidelines regularly, require medication reviews, and provide coverage for effective nondrug therapies. Health authorities would need to ensure that professionals have access to clinical decision-making tools, as well as accurate and comprehensive information on patients’ medical histories, in order to improve prescribing practices overall.

“When it comes to seniors’ health, prescribing practices are too often based on little or no evidence, and as a result they can be inappropriate and even dangerous. Much more can and should be done to address this serious health issue for our aging population,” Bernier concludes.

Improving Prescription Drug Safety for Canadian Seniors, by Nicole F. Bernier, can be downloaded from the Institute’s website (irpp.org).

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The Institute for Research on Public Policy is an independent, national, bilingual, not-for-profit organization based in Montreal. To receive updates from the IRPP, please subscribe to our e-mail list.

Media contact:    Shirley Cardenas    tel. 514-594-6877    scardenas@nullirpp.org